profile of a farmer with an American flag in the background all contained within a circle set against a mountain backdrop

Letters from an American Farmer

by Michel-Guillaume Jean de Crèvecœur

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Discussion Topic

Crevecoeur's depiction of "Americaness" and community in "Letters from an American Farmer."


In "Letters from an American Farmer," Crevecoeur depicts "Americaness" as a blend of diverse cultures and a sense of equality and opportunity. He emphasizes the importance of community, portraying America as a place where individuals from various backgrounds come together, work hard, and live harmoniously, contributing to a collective identity rooted in freedom and mutual support.

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How does Crevecoeur describe "Americaness" in Letters from an American Farmer?

To the French immigrant Crevecoeur, Americans were "the poor of Europe,” defined by their mongrel nature and not by their Englishness. He saw America as a “great asylum,” meaning a welcoming refuge where former landless Europeans could own property and be secure in their liberty to be free agents of their own prosperity. Crevecouer himself changed his name to the more Anglo-sounding Hector St. John because he understood the potential America offered individuals to reinvent themselves anew according to their own self-image.

Unlike the European, who is bound up by old affiliations with religion or clan or country, Crevecoeur’s American can embrace certain associations while still remaining “allied to all.” Crevecoeur marveled at an American family "whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations," observing that "Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men."

Yet he was not so idealistic that his encounters with enslaved people and the inhuman conditions of their bondage didn’t challenge his views of liberty and self-determination. There was also for Crevecoeur another dark side to the Americans: connections to the land they own and work itself. Those same agrarian values and the developing American identity were being challenged by some force of encroaching “wilderness” close to home. When he says, "As long as we keep ourselves busy in tilling the earth, there is no fear of any of us becoming wild,” he reflects the unique anxiety of the American who must confront both wild nature and their own selves without the structure and support of established civilization.

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How does Crevecour describe the community in "Letters From an American Farmer?"

I assume you are talking about his description of the community of Nantucket.  If so, the major theme of his description is how great he thinks the community is because it is harmonious and prosperous.

He says that this comunity is way more prosperous than it would be if it were located on the "shores of some ancient monarchy."  He says that the fact that it is ruled so lightly by the government is what makes it prosperous.

He is also very taken with the idea that the community is pretty egalitarian.  He notes that there are few preachers and few lawyers.  There are no governors.

So what he is saying is that Nantucket is prosperous because it is free and egalitarian.

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